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  • Writer's pictureТеодора Иванова

Combining social, entrepreneurial, and diversity aspects or simply diving into the changemaking

DIVERS- a group of brave youth workers, longing to dig deep into social entrepreneurship, aiming to create solutions for the young people at risk of exclusion. Very resistant to extreme heat waves, bugs, and effective even after prolonged parties.

The Erasmus + projects have the wondrous ability to join together diverse people, roll them through an array of adventures just for a short amount of time, and make the once-strangers into genuine friends and partners.

Can you imagine in only 6 days - horse-riding, bridge-building, steps ahead, Ikigai, stepping in others shoes, morning exercising, exploring diversity, crocheting with the local grannies, discussing, feet in the water, sharing, hiking, mapping social enterprises, prototyping, questioning potential clients, developing solutions, mastering Indian dances, presenting fuck-ups, modelling business ideas, pitching, competing, eating local food, overcoming fear, shyness and language difficulties, motivating, and the presence of an enormous watermelon. It's overwhelming, yet highly satisfying.

The participants

This summer, the SoDivers project got together participants from 11 nationalities, representing 8 countries. We had Pakistan, India, Egypt, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, Italy and the Balkan countries - Greece, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria in our map of nationalities. The Covid situation prevented participants of two others partnering countries from attending, Spain and the United Kingdom, so they joined us virtually for some parts of the training. The diverse background and role of trainees allowed us to enable collaboration among experienced NGO professionals and youth workers, as well as organizational volunteers that are students in the areas of economics, social sciences, medicine and pharmacy, freelancers and beginning entrepreneurs, designers, and corporate specialists - all of them working with young people at risk, activists for inclusion and equality and wannabe changemakers.

The training team

The team was fantastic; Passionate, knowledgeable, energetic and professional

Theodora Ivanova (Bulgaria) (lead trainer) has over 20 years of work in design, management, and leading training modules and programs. She has experience in training for various target groups and topics such as fundraising, social entrepreneurship, BMC, communications, crowdfunding, project design & management, diversity and inclusion, and career guidance for young people at risk. As a project manager on the training team, she organized the work of the trainers and lead the preparation of the content and methodology. She presented the main part of the topics in the course on social economy and the tools related to development of the entrepreneurial ideas (value proposition) and the business model.

Anita Jones (Bulgaria) is an expert with experience in developing and conducting youth activities and training in the field of non-formal education, active citizenship, intercultural dialogue, volunteering and youth participation. This includes serious knowledge in working with young people from vulnerable groups, career development programs and integration into the work environment of young people of Roma origin. Anita is a specialist in group dynamics, reflection and sensitive training for effective communication, interpersonal understanding and empathy and in this capacity planned and organized the tools and sections related to group dynamics, feedback modules and self-reflection. She conducted the lectures on diversity and inclusion as well.

Ivelina Gadjeva (Bulgaria) is an inclusive designer and specialist in design thinking, creativity, development of services, projects and programs for people with different needs. Having solid expertise in working with young and vulnerable people, she led the modules for creativity, idea generation, design thinking and prototyping, as well as the special activities dedicated to empathy-building and the experience of stepping into each other's shoes.

Mariakiara Barra (Poland) complemented the team with her expertise in youth projects, volunteering, exchanges and presented to the participants the framework of the European Union's youth programs in the current programming period.

The project goal

The main goal of the project is the development of the competencies of youth workers and NGO teams in the field of social entrepreneurship as an alternative option for ensuring equality and employment for young people, and the financial stability of the civil society organizations. The training course aimed to provide in a systemic manner a set of concepts, principles, and processes of the social economy; examples from practical experience; the steps in the developing of social entrepreneurship model and skills necessary to apply numerous techniques and tools, as well as to provide the opportunities for practical learning.

The training

Practically applicable and "tailored" to the civic practitioners training needs. The training course provided the set of concepts, principles and processes of the social economy, the real-life examples, the steps in developing the model of social entrepreneurship and the skills needed to apply numerous techniques and tools. It worked on the attitudes for enabling inclusion and equality through social economy and gave opportunities for practical learning.

I liked the flow, I didn't feel bored and was not too tired. I learned quite a lot even at crazy heat levels

The initial part of the agenda guided the participants to the path of transformation from individuals to a group. Time was dedicated to overcoming communication barriers, self-observation, getting to know our motivation and strengths, passions and plans as well as our hopes and fears.

Let's start together - allowed to practice and improve the presenting skills, test speaking in front of an audience and breaking down the barrier to communicating in a foreign language (which of course was done throughout the entire training, especially with participants who were having their first such experience in a multilingual and multicultural environment).

Social construction - improved the understanding of the subtle differences that can come from "translation errors", teamwork and decision-making, as well as self-reflection on naming and revealing one's own fears and basic expectations.

Overcoming communication differences - the session proved to be key in understanding these differences. Participants improved their skills in communicating with other cultures and in observing values ​​and cultural characteristics "below" and "above" the surface, including norms of behavior based on gender, understanding and sexual orientation.

Self-assessment tools - participants were introduced to some basic methods of feedback, giving constructive feedback and learned how to ask questions about self-reflection of the day, as well as techniques on how to overcome negative emotions and experiences of the day and integrate them into yourself (in a positive way).

We dived deeper and explored our understanding of the nature of social entrepreneurs and our readiness to become them. The active discussion, real-life examples and finally the IKIGAI experience completed the circle of our survey and the day finished with ready-to-be changemakers eager to explore further the social business opportunities.

Day two lead us to explore the concept, history and reality of the social economy giving lecture and examples of the many aspects of the social enterprises ecosystem. Later we dived into exploring our biases and life paths, challenging our ability of empathy - the young people developed a better idea of ​​their start and current position in life, what led to what. what helped them and what hindered them. This part of the training strongly affected many of the participants and had specific beneficial effects on the group as whole. On one side the understanding of concepts such as unconscious bias, privilege, stereotypes, prejudice, micro-aggression, and inclusion was improved. This was an important basis for the next sessions related to the development of empathy and putting "in the other's shoes", which in turn will help them work with their youth and groups in unequal behavior. On the other side the additional cohesion and support of the group for more vulnerable participants helped to better understand the differences between diverse peoples, as well as to establish our own value and self-confidence as individuals.

In the "Dive into my shoes", participants immersed themselves (using various gadgets such as glasses, tinted in different ways, coins on the fingers, mimicking arthritis, headphones, hearing loss, etc.) in the feelings and in experiencing daily lives of people with varying degrees of physical disability in order to understand what "empathy" is and why the ability to understand diversity and create conditions is important.

I liked the challenge the most, which was to wear different pairs of glasses during dinner, which were modified to simulate a certain vision defect, an illness or even blindness. Each of us found this activity frustrating, but it made us aware that there are people who live like this every day.

From this moment we stepped on the path of the changemakers following the cycles of observation-ideation-creation-validation-modelling-evaluation of the social entrepreneurship ideas. The ideation part steps on the techniques of Design Thinking, Inclusive Design / Design for All / Universal Design, Creativity. Inclusive Design uses human diversity as a driver and source for finding innovative solutions and Design for all is a strategy for identifying, discovering challenges to be solved. Creative processes then allow for developing new paths and challenge our existing solutions, and help to create a value-added business strategy. Exploring tools and methods for generating ideas and acquiring knowledge for working with practical tools for unleashing the imagination, creating new ideas and concepts helped to develop skills on how to find solutions for "people" and not for "consumers". We went through mind mapping (by Anthony Peter "Tony" Buzan), The checklist (by Alex Osborne), s.c.a.m.p.e.r. (by Bob Eberle), Six thinking hats (by Edward de Bono) and the day took us to the city of Bansko where the Divers met and got direct sight into the life of the locals, discovering and taking notes of their hidden secrets. Some added value to the study via gaining skills of crocheting and enjoying the swimming pool.

The following days we submerged into the process of creation and development of the solutions. One step at a time we mastered the Startegyser's business model toolset developed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. Starting with the creation of the Value Model from defining the customers profiles to providing solutions to their jobs, pains and gains, acknowledging the differences between the customers and the beneficiaries, our divers created the value map of some promising solutions in various areas - inclusion of migrant girls, innovative psychological support to addicted youths, a new model overcoming employment challenges and preventing burnouts, accessible online studying for deaf university students.

The process continued with prototyping the solutions and set of options for testing possible solutions - both products and services. Prototyping is a practical visualization of an otherwise abstract idea to gather feedback and is a quick way to test various aspects such as usability, understanding of a concept, uses, etc. and make timely changes, to reduce the risk, to consider the necessary resources. Validating their solutions, the teams continued the next day with exploring and developing their Business Model Canvas - completing the whole nine building blocks thus creating realistic business model of their social entrepreneurship solutions. The BMC is a simple solution that allows visualization and provides simple practical tools to understand, design and implement a new business model. The Value Proposition Canvas is a structural element of the BMS that focuses of the main building blocks of the BMC - customer profile and the value proposition.

To add more pressure and practice a real-life situation our team put the divers to a simulation of an impact investment competition making the teams pitch their ideas and compete for funding for their developed business models. As in a real-life competition, a lot of effort was applied, the emotions were high, and the teams were invested in developing skills for presenting and championing their ideas. The score was tight, and two teams shared the winning place.

A vital part of our journey were the instruments and daily routine for reflection. At the end of each day, we ended with a circle for reflection and feedback, where everyone could ask additional questions for clarification, share about themselves and their perspective on the activities, and together we discussed what new knowledge and competencies were presented and developed during the day. Due to the deeply experiential nature of some of the activities, these circles were very important for closing the process of the day and extracting positive experiences. Some of the methods used for reflection were individual conversations, group reflection, self-reflection tools (e.g. color dice with questions, cards for self-reflection and self-coaching, developed especially for training, poster with questions for the day, Dixit cards, etc.); three large posters on the wall, where participants could anonymously write what they like, what they want to improve and what they are grateful for; box for "negatives" - it remained empty until the end of the training and we used it as a tool to reduce the tension and anxiety of young people before their final presentations in the competition for social entrepreneurship on the last day. Everyone wrote a large concern, and we collected them and threw them in the box, then handed out stickers for written positive messages and affirmation to colleagues (what they learned from each other, what they like about each other, etc.

The reflection sessions were a good choice for this project, I liked this idea, it helped us to realize what we have accumulated throughout the day.

Separately, the trainers also had individual and small group conversations to support the learning process and feedback where needed, debriefing with specific questions after the sessions to support what was learned from the presentation or activity, to reinforce the basic concepts presented, as well as to enable trainers to receive feedback.

Additional added value to the training were the two special nights of Organizational Fair and FuckUp night that provided space to share ideas, current work, and issues that the youth workers are dealing with, as well as the opportunity to share the failures and learn from them. The last is especially valued in the entrepreneurial environment, as among the other things, it helps develop the positive attitude and ability to deal fast with a bad experience, to learn from it and to move on, instead of letting oneself fall to depression and burnout.

The training in numbers and achievements


techniques for self-assessment, observation and reflection


​techniques for monitoring and assessing needs


techniques for design, creativity and decision making


​prototyping techniques


​techniques for evaluation and validation of resistance


Value Proposition Model


Business Model Canvas

We created a social economy map for SoDivers and looked at 30 examples and models of social business

We challenged ourselves to see and compare our points of view, to empathize with others and to get out of our comfort zone

We reviewed our knowledge of equality, equity and inclusion,

We evaluated our own stereotypes and way of life

We discussed and shared our biggest failures

We competed for the best business model

The outcomes

The program and the sessions were very useful and important for my future job that I'm looking forward to and they helped me to develop new ways of thinking and acting.

The training equipped the participating youth workers with the necessary competencies to initiate, develop and manage social business or to support their target groups in this activity. The trained specialists now have the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence to enter into the world of business and to use entrepreneurial tools and terminology. Moreover, the training gave them the motivation and purpose in combining the business technology with the civic mission and to create the right attitude towards "making money" and their investment in the long run in changing lives. The project allowed them to network with like-minded people and open the door to new solutions.

The feedback at the end of the training, as well as the subsequent communication in the private Facebook group of the participants shows that they managed to create connections and friendships, which are a prerequisite for developing partnerships in their work further.

The design of the training gave participants many practical tools and guidelines for developing specific entrepreneurial ideas but was also related to personal growth to develop empathy, tolerance, creativity and acceptance of differences and work towards inclusive society. All this established good preconditions for their future development in the field of social innovation and entrepreneurship. It was very interesting for us, the team of trainers, to observe the process of the participants and how at the end of the training those who were more business and economic, turned inward and explored their own values ​​and ideas for social projects. Those who were not business-oriented saw a new horizon for development in front of them and how they could have a potentially much greater influence and impact with the assistance of a business mindset.

It is worth paying attention to the words of a participant from Hungary, who was born in Pakistan:

I have always believed that something in me wants to change the world and now I see that I can do it and everything can be for the better.

The venue and our hosts.. the horses, the river

A great contribution to our adventure were the surroundings which not only provided us a safe space and a lot of opportunities for open air sessions, but also energized us with the cool waters of the river in the extreme summer heat, the many small paths to explore and relax between the busy sessions, the healthy food and the caring grannie that prepared it, and most of all our fellow horses that visited every afternoon, sending signals of friendliness and enhancing the good vibes.



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